Computing Tips for New Students

This is the time of year when folks are preparing for their studies. Here are a few tips that you might find useful :

  1. You probably don't need a new PC. There is a very good chance that the one you have already got is going to be adequate, even if you are taking one of our game development courses it turns out that a standard PC (or even a laptop) should be up to the task. And anyway, there's no need to buy it before you arrive. At Hull we are having a "Welcome to Hull Frag Fest" on the first Saturday of the semester. You can come along to that and see what kind of machines other folks bring before you decide to buy anything yourself.
  2. Make sure that you have all your updates installed on your system. It doesn’t matter whether it is a Windows PC, a Mac or a Linux netbook. Find out how to check for updates and get everything up to date. At some point you will want to connect your machine up to a campus network of some kind, and if you don’t have all the latest security patches you may be vulnerable to infection.
  3. Do something about viruses. At the very least make sure that your Windows PC has Microsoft Security Essentials installed and running, that the databases are up to date and that you run scans at regular intervals. If you really want to install an anti-virus program don’t feel obliged to spend a lot of money, the AVG free anti-virus program is good and will cost you nothing. Get it from http://free.avg.com/. Please don’t spend huge amounts on some of the more expensive ones. The benefits are dubious and they also have annual renewal charges too.
  4. Take a complete backup of your machine and leave it somewhere safe (perhaps even at home). Find out how to use the backup software on your machine and take a copy of everything. Use one of these cheap external hard disks that you can pick up for around 35 pounds or so from places like http://www.ebuyer.com/ or Staples, or even Tesco. That way if it all goes horribly wrong when you get to university you can recover your precious music, videos and other stuff. Once you have the backup habit, take a full one one every month or so.
  5. Don’t spend huge amounts on software just yet. Most universities (including ours at Hull) have deals that get you some programs that you need cheaply. Take a look at https://www.dreamspark.com/ for free Microsoft stuff and http://students.autodesk.com/ for free Autodesk stuff (great for 3D design). Adobe have some great subscription deals for students too. 
  6. The same goes for spending money on books. In the computing field they are rather expensive, and you don’t want to pay a lot for a book and then find out that it is only used for a small part of the course. You can check the books out in the library, and you might also find that there is a second hand book sale on your campus where you can pick up the required volumes from other students quite quickly. You might also want to form a little cartel with fellow students to share books between each other and spread the expense (this is also neat because it can also give you a ready made study group). Hull students will get a printed copy of the C# Yellow Book (custard edition). Anyone else can get it free from http://www.csharpcourse.com/
  7. Get a usb memory stick (actually, if you are a Hull Computer Science student we’ll be giving you one of these later this week) . Keep backups of all your work on it. You can also use it to take files into the university to work on. You will get some filespace on the university network, but it will not be an enormous amount, and having your files always with you is useful. Put a file on the drive with your contact details (just your name and phone number) so that if you lose the drive people can find out who to return it to.
  8. Get some free on line storage. Look at Windows Live Onedrive: https://onedrive.live.com/about/en/. This gives you 7 GBytes of space which is sycnrhonised over all your machines. You’ll need a Windows Live account to use this. Take a look at DropBox too at http://www.getdropbox.com/. Unfortunately you only get 2G of Dropbox space for free. You can also use Google Drive: https://drive.google.com
  9. Make sure you have insurance for all your nice toys. It would be terrible if they got stolen or damaged before they were insured. Take a look at cover from student specialists like Endsleigh: http://www.endsleigh.co.uk/Student/Pages/student-insurance.aspx (if anyone knows any cheaper deals feel free to let me know and I’ll update this post)
  10. Start blogging. Good writing skillz, like wot you can sea hear, are very valuable and make you a much more employable person. Sign up at Hull Computer Science Blogs: http://hullcompsciblogs.com/ and start putting your word out and building your brand.
  11. There are some fantastic devices that you can use to keep track of lectures and tutorials. Take a look at the LiveScribe pen. This lets you record the audio of a lecture synchronised with your hand written notes. It is a little bit pricey, and you have to get special notebooks to use it properly, but is a great way to make sure that your notes never get lost. You could also check out EverNote and even Microsoft OneNote as ways of organising your notes. 
  12. Don’t worry. Really. You’ll be fine.